The little girl appeared to be a happy, curious child. The next morning, when the man came in and paid for another night, I didn't think anything about it. But at that moment, looking at the alert, there was no doubt in my mind it was the same man and child that were just across the parking lot from where I was sitting.
I was at school that day, so I wasn't part of the accident, and part of me has always felt some guilt about that. Thankfully, my family survived, but it was a traumatic time for all of us. After hearing about Kershaw's Challenge, I thought about how I could turn the accident into something positive and help other people in the process.
No one can say that they don't have a blueprint. They can't say that there are no instructions for this. We work every day to provide the blueprint, to provide the instructions. And although none of us know all the answers, collectively we provide enough to help anyone become and remain successful as a parent.
I'm sure they were expecting some guy strung out on drugs. What they found was the power of freedom from active addiction, in all its glorious forms, manifested in me. I looked healthy. I had a job. I had a life. They didn't expect this from me, since before then I had never stayed clean for more than a year.
So, I got an old Fiat seven-seater, half broken down, uncomfortable, with a grumbling engine. I removed all the seats and I assembled a bookstore inside: I named it "Leggiu," which in the Sicilian dialect means "slow." Then I called some independent publishers and got over 30 of them to provide books. And that's how Pianissimo - libri sulla strada, or "Books on the Road," was born: a mobile bookshop that travels around southern Italy with hundreds of books for adults and children.
I watched my daughter lose her hair and her appetite. She was tired and nauseated, experiencing vomiting and weight loss. We lived through what the St. Jude's commercials don't show. Starla was in the hospital for six months with only three short visits home. She went through five rounds of intense chemotherapy, with each round carrying its own set of side effects.
I stayed at CARIH for almost two years. When I was released and sent home, my friends and I exchanged addresses and promised to write, and we did for a while. But people grew up, moved, married and changed their names, and could be impossible to find. Over the years, I wondered what happened to my old friends.
Our initial success was exciting, even though it meant a ton of work for us. Meredith and I, along with our husbands, worked through the night on auction days manually tracking orders and processing invoices. Our side project was becoming a 100-hour-a-week job as we were every facet of the company from photographer/model, shipping/receiving, AP/AR, buyers/stylists, customer service and the list goes on. It was imperative that we begin hiring our first staff, many of whom are still with us today.